When the history of the 2018/19 season is written, the defeat to Crystal Palace will be where they say it all went wrong.
A 3-2 reverse in a pretty routine match against a poor opponent – and at a crucial moment of the season – was hugely damaging to our chances of our top four finish.
With the teams around us dropping points and missing chances, three points against Roy Hodgson’s perennial strugglers would have gifted us a huge advantage.
Instead, we were sucked back into the mire and defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers a few days later took our destiny out of our hands in a way that may yet prove decisive.
The most disturbing thing about it all was the familiarity of it. Despite a new manager, new coaches, and several new players, the self-destructive nature of that last week smacked of Arsene Wenger’s final years.
For all Unai Emery’s hard work, tactical nous, and analysis, his players reverted to type in a way that is unbecoming of a side battling at the top end of the table.
It was an inexplicable slip up in a moment of strength. It was rank complacency of the type we all hoped we’d long seen the back of.
We could have staked a claim as the best side in the country outside of the two freak show sides at the top of the table. That would have been quite something.
Going into Sunday’s trip to Leicester, we are relying on the ineptitude of others to allow us a way back into the top four race. To have come so far this season only to see this pattern repeated is seriously disheartening.
Of course, come the end of Sunday, with a few favourable results and a trailing wind, everything could be different again and we could find ourselves on top of the world. Even in the unlikely event that that pans out, however, the underlying issues would remain the same. We are just too weak mentally.
We are complacent when our focus should be on getting the job done, and we are frightened when our focus should be on fighting for a result – even if that result can’t necessarily be a victory.
At the moment, I don’t hold out much hope for this weekend’s trip to Leicester. They will be rubbing their hands together at the thought of doing to us exactly what Wolverhampton did, and they can do so safe in the knowledge that we will more than likely play right into their hands.
The Foxes are fast-breaking, counter-attacking specialists and typically perform at their peak in matches against sides like Arsenal, who focus on taking the game to their opponent from the outset, whether home or away.
I would hope that Emery and his coaching staff have worked relentlessly on finding a way to out-think teams who seek to take advantage of us on the counter attack but I appreciate that that isn’t as easy as it sounds.
On occasions in which Emery has plumped for caution (West Ham, Crystal Palace etc), the football has been turgid and any defensive gains have resulted in the complete gelding of our attack. Conversely, when Emery has gone for attacking ambition (Wolverhampton being the prime example), he has found his team woefully exposed in defence and leaking goals at an alarming rate.
If he can fashion a sort of compromise with the team in its remaining two fixtures away from home, he may find enough points to keep us in the mix for the top four, but it is a tall order and far from certain at this stage.
Above all, the players are going to have to find a way to dig deeper than they have been. They are going to have to redouble their efforts and work their way back into the Champions League because, as Palace proved, nobody is going to give it to us.
What should be clear to them above all else is this; anything less than a win against Leicester will spell the end of their hopes of a top-four finish.
If that isn’t motivation enough to get a result, nothing will be.